Dream holiday for special children  

By REBECCA TORR

FOR the past 10 years Dreamflight Bahrain has annually given two sick Bahraini children the holiday of a lifetime to the UK and US.

The two children chosen are usually from underprivileged backgrounds who would never have the opportunity to enjoy such an experience.

Hassan Ahmed, 13, and Ali Ebrahim, 10, are the latest two to benefit from the British charity Dreamflight's unique trip.

Nomination

The holiday includes two days in London and 10 days in Florida where they visit Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Sea World and other attractions.

Bahraini children are nominated for the trip by doctors at the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC) and then a panel of medical experts in the UK narrows them down to two.

The two children chosen from Bahrain join 190 other seriously ill children, aged between eight and 14, from the UK, Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Hong Kong.

"I am so excited to visit these two cities as I have never been there before," Ali told the GDN prior to travelling.

"I want to try all the rides in Disneyland."

His partner on the trip Hassan cheerfully revealed he planned to visit every part of Disneyland and watch the many parades there.

"I feel so excited and lucky to be chosen for this trip," he said.

The Bahraini children are accompanied throughout the trip by an escort and once in the US the 192 children are split into 12 groups of 16 children.

The groups are named after a children's character and the Bahraini children are usually in the Donald Duck group.

Each group is accompanied by eight escorts, as well as a group leader, paediatric doctor, a senior nurse, two nurses, a physiotherapist and two non-medical helpers.

There are also extra escorts on hand to help. The aim is to have one escort for every child.

To prepare them for the trip the children are given free English lessons from Berlitz Language Centre and taken for shopping to buy new clothes and other items.

Speedy Motors provides free transport to them during preparations for the trip and to the airport and Batelco gives the children mobile phones so they can keep in touch with their families while they are away.

Awesome

The first two children to participate in Dreamflight in 2001 were Fatima Mohammed Hassan and Zainab Rasool Al Awani, who were 13-year-old back then.

"I loved the whole thing, it was awesome," said Fatima, years after returning from the trip.

"I had a wonderful time in Florida and London.

"I loved the Magic Kingdom the most, the rides were awesome.

"I am back in school and I am telling all my friends about my holiday and they're very happy for me."

Fatima proudly announced at the time that she had made a total of 60 friends during her trip.

"Ask me all their names, I know them all by heart," she said.

"I am writing to them all and I can't wait to hear from them."

Dreamflight is a UK-registered charity that was started in 1987 by its two founders, Derek Pereira and Pat Pearce, who were both with British Airways.

Mr Pereira had first become involved with the disabled when he volunteered to help at the Stoke Mandeville handicapped games in England in 1983.

It was three years later that the former British Airways flight engineer came up with the idea of the "Dreamflight", but at the time he thought it could never be more than a fantasy.

He had just helped organise a one-hour flight to give children the chance to experience a plane trip and thought that he could do something much more exciting.

At a party for the participants he announced that he wanted to take a plane of children to Florida the following year.

The following morning he received offers of support, which led to the start of a mission that gives hundreds of children the chance to fly to Florida, US, and visit Disneyworld, Seaworld, and other places every year.

Determined to make Dreamflight a reality, Mr Pereira approached the then airline chief medical officer who agreed to pass the information on to the BA chairman Sir Colin Marshall, who turned down the idea.

Mr Pereira promised to do the flight with no cost to the airline by raising money.

Sir Colin gave him the go-ahead but there were still major obstacles to overcome, such as finding money for the flight's tariff of $100,000 (BD37,800).

However, a British Post Office party brought in $2,000 (BD756), followed by a donation of $10,000 (BD3,780) from an investment company and that was the start.

Children chosen for the trip were sick, but they had to be fit enough to travel.

Although Dreamflight was supposed to be a one-off event there was so much support for it that it continued on an annual basis and was registered as a charity, with Mr Pereira as a trustee.

The charity is normally only open to sick children from the UK, but Dreamflight was brought to Bahrain 10 years ago by Mr Pereira and his Bahrain-based sister Yvonne Trueman.

It was initially meant to be a one-time arrangement, but with the support of British Airways, the British Embassy and the local community, Bahrain has been able to secure two places a year since then.

"When my brother Derek came to Bahrain in 2000 we discussed how to bring this wonderful opportunity to sick children in Bahrain," Ms Trueman told the GDN.

"We talked with Jane Bishop who was then country manager at British Airways.

"She and her fellow colleagues formed a team and launched Dreamflight Bahrain.

"The first Bahraini children chosen for Dreamflight were Zainab Rasool and Fatima Mohammed Hasan, who were both aged 13 at the time.

"Since then Bahrain has been fortunate enough to have secured two places each year to join up with the other children in London.

"Bahrain, Hong Kong and Ukraine are only the other countries to have this opportunity."

Ms Trueman said Dreamflight was a trip of a lifetime for sick children who would not otherwise have the chance of such an experience.

"It's an opportunity given to a special child, one who has a terminal illness or a condition that could shorten their life," she said.

"For example children with sickle cell may have a certain life span and this is an opportunity of a lifetime that these children will remember forever.

"A sick child doesn't know what tomorrow will bring, so this really is a holiday of a lifetime in their lifetime."

Former GDN reporter Eunice Del Rosario, who was a Dreamflight escort for Bahraini girls Mariam Hassan and Ruqaya Mohammed in 2006, said she felt honoured to accompany the children on the trip that gave them a once in a lifetime opportunity.

She said the Bahraini children who have gone on to enjoy their dream holidays have not only represented Bahrain well, but also the rest of the Arab world.

"They all served as wonderful ambassadors, especially when Dreamflight first accepted Bahraini children into its programme in 2001 - a time when the world was at a very tumultuous time," she said.

"When I met the first two Bahraini girls who went on the holiday in 2001, the first word they uttered upon their return was 'awesome'.

"After working with Dreamflight for seven years, I know more than ever that we can all learn a lot from children.

"To them, there is no such thing as the colour of your skin, the language you speak, your medical condition or your handicap. They all are passionate about life.

"I am sure Dreamflight Bahrain will continue its great success and I look forward to volunteering some more here in the US in the near future.

"I am happy that I was part of something that touched the lives of many."

Dreamflight in Bahrain is co-ordinated by Debbie Beedie and finance co-ordinator Maha Al Abbas.

Ms Al Abbas has been involved since the very beginning and co-ordinates with Salmaniya Medical Complex officials, the parents and children.

She said working with Dreamflight had made her feel very fortunate to have two healthy children, her daughters Layal, 14, and Razan, 11 and had made her really appreciate all that she has.

Confidence

It was also a delight to be able to give happiness to families and put a smile on a sick child's face, she added.

"All of the families have really been appreciative of Dreamflight and felt that we gave their children a chance they wouldn't normally have," said Ms Al Abbas.

"This is because most of them would never have the chance to go on an airplane or visit Europe and the US.

"The furthest most of them would be able to travel is Saudi or Iran and then that would be by bus."

She said the trip had a very positive impact on the children that participate and they come back more confident and outgoing and it gives them a happy memory to recall when life gets tough for them.

"They come back speaking better English because they are surrounded by English speaking kids," said Ms Al Abbas.

"The children that are chosen to go on Dreamflight come from very poor backgrounds and just being on the flight is something for them.

"On the trip they have seen children that are sicker than them so they come back making the best out of life and become more helpful to others."

becky@gdn.com.bh


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